Tomorrow will initiate the 2012 – 13 law school recruiting season, in the form of the LSAC’s Washington, D.C., forum. True, we remain knee-deep in waitlist activity for the 2011 – 12 season, but as the robin is the harbinger of spring, so the D.C. forum is the harbinger of law school recruiting season.
The cyclical nature of admissions is one of its many charms as a job; right when you’re feeling worn out by one recurring task, it’s time to move to the next. So I’m pretty excited about the prospect of talking to a whole new slew of strangers tomorrow. I have met many people at these events who went on to become students—I vividly remember, for example, a great conversation at last year’s Boston forum with one of our brand-new summer starters—and so I love the promise of the future the forums offer.
For the admissions folks, attendance means standing on one side of a table and fielding questions from passers-by on the other side. (Well—if you’re lucky. LSAC forums are always well-attended and lively, but when such events are held at individual colleges, attendance sometimes can be sparse. Then, the principal challenge for a recruiter is to resist the urge to leap over the table and tackle the lone attendee in order to have someone to talk to.) Easy enough, although the challenge comes in the necessarily repetitive and workmanlike nature of the questions. Sure, hearing the same questions means you can be assured you will always know the answers, but there is not a lot of latitude for appearing at one’s perky, shiny best when responding to, “What is your median LSAT?”
Which is not to complain. Having recently been on the consumer end of the higher ed selection, I am completely sympathetic to the need to ask pedestrian questions. My sole foray into standing on The Other Side Of The Table came when I was shepherding my daughter through a college fair at the local high school. I went into it with a certain swagger—after all, I had had many opportunities to think about what are good questions, and I already knew a lot of basics about tons of colleges. Surely I would be able to suggest to my daughter some riveting questions. Alas, no. I found myself wanting to categorize all the schools and put them in neat little boxes, and doing that requires apples-to-apples data. Next thing you know, I’m telling my daughter to ask prosaic questions about average ACT scores and acceptance rates. Urgh.
Gathering such information all at one time and in one setting is certainly useful for the exercise of forming comparisons. But it is even more useful if you can bring yourself to move beyond those sorts of questions into something that has the potential to lead to an actual conversation. That allows you to learn a lot about a school’s culture, both at the implicit and explicit level. If you can engage in a dialogue, you can get a sense of the school’s identity and, for want of a better word, personality. Of course, the person a school sends to recruit isn’t always going to be an accurate reflection of the school as a whole, but it’s not for nothing, either. And if you can elicit answers that go beyond data, you’re more likely to learn information that isn’t printed in the viewbook or captured on a website.
Some of the best questions I’ve gotten over the years are framed from the students’ point of view: “How did your students react to XYZ event?” “What is a typical day like for a student?” “Who are the most popular professors? Why?” At the most fundamental level, these questions allow you to quickly suss out whether the recruiter knows anything about what students think. If they don’t, you might want to listen to representations about the school with heightened skepticism. If they’re not interested in their current students, chances are pretty good they’re not going to be interested in their future students, either.
No need, though, to try to wow the person on the other side of the table. One great beauty of this setting, from the applicant’s point of view, is your relative anonymity. You are in complete information-gathering mode; it’s not an interview, and you don’t have to worry about getting a grade. (I’m not recommending that you ask aggressive questions, mind you; at least one person at these events is guaranteed to lob, “Sell me on why I should be interested in your school,” to which I think the appropriate response is, “I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be.” Such questions won’t do you harm—again, these events are volume operations, and you can pass through fairly anonymously—but think about karma.) Go ahead and ask the prosaic questions, but if your table-hopping leads to even one particularly positive conversation, you’re likely to feel the effort of attending has been merited.